Author Tags: Fiction, Health, Humour
Born in Ponoka, Alberta in 1969, Susan Juby moved at age six with her parents to Smithers, where she was mainly raised, along with a brief stint in Salmon Arm. Inspired by her high school experiences in Smithers, Juby's trilogy about formerly home-schooled, 15-year-old Alice MacLeod of Smithers vaulted her into the literary and television limelight.
Raised by hippie parents, Alice is mostly anxious about learning how to conform. Other characters include her overly smart younger brother, her father's bandmates--including the local taxi driver and her father's gay best friend who runs the sporting goods store--and Linda, the 16-year-old town psychopath who has made Alice's life a living hell since first grade.
The debut volume called Alice I Think (Thistledown, 2002) won the Books In Canada First Novel Award. It was followed by Miss Smithers (Harpercollins, 2004) in which the would-be fashion designer competes in a local beauty pageant--as did Juby herself. This second installment received the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize in 2005. "This kind of makes up for the fact that I failed miserably in the Miss Smithers beauty contest," Juby said.
Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last (Harpercollins, 2005) occurs during Alice's summer preceding Grade 12 during which she writes a humourous screenplay entitled 'Of Moose and Men' and contemplates losing her virginity. Her mother has been sent to jail for overly zealous environmental activism and her boyfriend has moved to Scotland.
"Alice is who I might have been if I hadn't been so intent on fitting in at all costs," Juby has said.
Television rights for the Alice books were sold in 2005, whereupon CTV produced a 13-part half-hour television series starring Vancouver actor Carly McKillip in the title role. Filmed in Vancouver and Langley, B.C., this series was produced by Slanted Wheel Entertainment and Omni Film Productions in association with CTV and The Comedy Network.
Initially Susan Juby was unaware that she was writing young adult fiction until, after many rejections, someone identified the genre for which her work is best suited. In 2007, she spread her wings to write a love triangle about a girl, a boy and a horse, Another Kind of Cowboy (HarperCollins $17.89). It’s the story of two dressage riders, Alex and Clio. She’s hot to trot for romance, but beyond his macho façade Alex is another kind of cowboy.
For Nice Recovery (Viking 2010), she veered into adult realism, outlining her teenage problems with alcohol. "My family seems to specialize in people who enjoy drinking," she wrote. "And taking drugs. In such families, there is usually one person who stands out as particularly gifted in the field. When I was a teenager, that person was me. I was the star, the Alec Baldwin, if you will. I started drinking seriously when I was thirteen, smoking pot with a vengeance at fourteen and getting into cocaine at sixteen. By the time I was twenty I was done. Nice Recovery is the story of how I slipped so far off course, how I got back on track and, most importantly, what it's like to come of age as a sober young person."
Susan Juby's first comic adult novel is The Woefield Poultry Collective in which a nice girl from Brooklyn, Prudence Burns, inherits an untended plot of land named Woefield Farm. Her farm hands are Earl, an elderly, reclusive bluegrass legend; Seth, an agoraphobic heavy-metal blogger in early recovery from alcoholism; and Sara, an 11-year-old girl with a flock of elite show poultry.
Susan Juby won $15,000 and the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour for the best book in Canadian literary humour for her follow-up novel, Republic of Dirt: Return to Woefield (HarperCollins), about the troubles that befall Prudence Burns as she struggles to maintain her farm as she also battles a mysterious illness. Less than two months earlier, Juby also won her second Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize for The Truth Commission (Razerbill).
Bright's Light is her dystopian YA novel in the sci-fi realm in which body image for young still remains a fixation.
Her sixth novel for teenagers, The Truth Commission (2014), is a humourous story about Normandy Pale and her friends, Dusk and Neil, who are self-appointed members of an informal truth commission at the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design. Normandy's burden is having a precocious older sister, Keira, who has gone off to attend North America's most prestigious art and animation school, CAID, the California Institute of Art and Design.
Susan Juby reported she teared-up when she read the penultimate paragraph in a Kirkus review by Leila Roy: “For me, my love for this book goes beyond the fun and the funny and the adorable and the sad; beyond the excellence of the family story and the friendship story and the sweetness of the romance and the quiet strength of Norm’s relationship with Ms. Fowler. It goes beyond the myriad of ways in which Norm and her friends change the lives of those they touch; beyond the huge cast of entirely three-dimensional characters; beyond the ruminations about the nature of truth and about gossip, about our feelings of entitlement toward other peoples’ private truths, about how asking a question can be a kindness, but sometimes, so can keeping your mouth shut. For me, at its core, the Big Truth of The Truth Commission is this: you get a whole lot more out of life when you set the ironic detachment aside, and start treating other people—and the world in general—with honesty, empathy, sensitivity, and love.” The book won the 2016 Sheila A. Egoff children's literature prize.
Before her first novel was published, Susan Juby dropped out of fashion school, received a B.A. from UBC and worked for seven years at Hartley & Marks publishing house in Vancouver. Following publication of Alice, I Think, she left Hartley & Marks to complete a master of publishing degree at Simon Fraser University.
Susan Juby now lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, near Nanaimo, where she owns a horse, manages her own blog on the internet and teaches Creative Writing at Vancouver Island University.
Alice, I Think (Thistledown, 2002)
Miss Smithers (HarperCollins, 2004)
Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last (HarperCollins, 2005)
Another Kind of Cowboy (HarperCollins 2007). 9780060765187
Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance and Cookery (2008)
Nice Recovery (Viking 2010) 978-0-670-06917-0
The Woefield Poultry Collective (HarperCollins) 978-1554687442
The Truth Commission (RazorBill/Penguin Canada 2015) 978-0-670-06759-6
Republic of Dirt: Return to Woefield (HarperCollins 2015)
[BCBW 2016] "Fiction" "Health"
W.P. Kinsella on Susan Juby's humour
In the 1980s, I attended a reading by Alice Munro. I had read her most recent book and loved it, but it had never occurred to me that her stories were humourous. She read a story and to my surprise the audience laughed many times. When I mentioned this to Alice after the reading, she smiled and said, “Bill, everything is funny.”
Unfortunately this viewpoint has received little vindication in the world of Canadian fiction.
What was the last humourous book to win the Governor General’s Award for Fiction? Or the Giller? Or the Books in Canada First Novel Award? Or the Canadian Authors Association Fiction Award? While a few of the winning books have offered some semblance of humour, only the 2002 winner of the Canadian Authors Association prize, Generica, by Will Ferguson, was actually a comic novel. Except on occasions when the Governor General’s Award is given to Alice Munro, the GGs are generally chosen by an incestuous clique of humourless academic drones who take turns rewarding each other’s sub-mediocrity. On the other hand, some of the choices for the GGs have been so breathtakingly awful as to be unintentionally humourous, and have certainly drawn their share of rueful laughter.
Meanwhile Canada exports comedians by the dozen, possibly because they realize that their humour will be appreciated more in the U.S. I remember once being asked the difference between Canadian and American responses to my work. My reply was, when an American reads my books, they say, “I loved your stuff. It was so funny I laughed out loud.” While a Canadian would say, “I enjoyed your work, I just about laughed.” I consider myself a humorist, though I have not always been recognized as such. The reviews of Shoeless Joe were almost unanimously positive, but few mentioned that it is a funny novel. One of the few times I ever replied to a reviewer was when the New York Times treated The Iowa Baseball Confederacy as serious fiction, never once mentioning that it is (in my opinion) a spoof of organized religion, and organized baseball. I suggested that having an outfielder run from Iowa to New Mexico chasing a fly ball, and having a church that ran 12 hours behind the rest of the world, and having an outfielder fried by lightning, just might be considered humourous by some.
All of which brings me to Susan Juby.
I had just about given up on humour in Canadian literature, when, as I was wending my way through the sometimes good, sometimes bad, but generally humourless nominees for the Books in Canada First Novel Award, all of a sudden I started laughing out loud, and calling to my wife, saying “Listen to this! Listen to this!” The book that excited me was Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, a young woman writing a very fictionalized version of her teen years in Smithers, B.C. The second sentence got me: “I grew up in one of those loving families that fail to prepare a person for real life.” The implosion of Alice’s former high school counselor is a classic scene, and Alice’s assessment of her replacement counselor, who she dubs “Death Lord Bob”, is not entirely inaccurate, as she sees him as being needier than she is. Juby describes Alice and her family attending a picnic for home-schooled children: “...home-schooled kids weren’t exactly what my dad called ‘paragons of normalcy.’ A disturbing number of them were still breast-feeding at an age when most kids are taking up smoking.” Then, “I am pleased to report that I am making rapid progress... now, thanks to my new Life Goals and an article I read on the Ukraine in National Geographic, I have realized it is my calling to be an Easter-egg painter.”
The second and third volumes of the trilogy are equally hilarious. Yes, Susan Juby is the real thing. But children’s literature? Isn’t that picture books with pop-ups that one reads to pre-schoolers? I asked Susan if she had any misgivings about her work being considered children’s literature. “If one wants to write comedy,” she replied, “the YA/teen market is a good place to do it. A lot of the funniest writing these days is published for younger readers (and ends up getting picked up by adults.)“I guess there’s a long history of this kind of thing. I read somewhere that P.G. Wodehouse was popularized by British school boys. There’s a healthy respect for comedy in the YA market.”
Susan’s trilogy has been optioned by a production company associated with CTV Vancouver. These are the same people who created Corner Gas, a very funny Seinfeld in Saskatchewan series, whose greatest compliment is that it didn’t receive any Geminis because it is so many light years ahead of the drivel that passes for TV entertainment. I’ll hope Susan’s experience with TV is better than mine. There was a unfunny travesty of a TV show called The Rez, which was created from my Leacock Medal-winning characters, but the TV people were too cheap, too lazy, or too untalented (my guess is all three) to option any of my 100+ stories about Silas Erminskine and Frank Fencepost, so some hacks created their own. I had to fight for every penny owed me and never got paid my pittance for the final six episodes.
[W. P. Kinsella lives in retirement in Yale, B.C., with his wife Barbara Turner Kinsella, a former Miss Congeniality and 2nd Runner-Up for Miss Protestant County Tyrone.]
Alice, I Think TV series (2005)
Vancouver, BC (September 12, 2005) - CTV and The Comedy Network
announced today that after a cross-country search, Vancouver actor Carly
McKillip has been cast in the title role for Alice, I Think, the newest
comedy series for CTV and The Comedy Network. Principal photography
begins immediately on the 13-part, half-hour series, based on the
internationally-acclaimed books by BC author Susan Juby. Produced by
Slanted Wheel Entertainment and Omni Film Productions in association
with CTV and The Comedy Network, filming continues through November 10
in Vancouver and Langley, BC.
McKillip, a 16-year-old Vancouver native, has been acting since she was
a child. She was cast in the once-in-a-lifetime role after a nation-wide
search to find the perfect Alice. Over 60 young actors from across the
country auditioned for the role. As Alice MacLeod, McKillip plays a
15-year-old girl with an oddball family facing the trials and
tribulations of teenagedom in the small town of Smithers, BC.
"When we first saw Carly, we knew immediately that she was our Alice,"
said creator Susin Nielsen. "Carly understood that Alice was a complex
character from the get-go."
Alice, I Think revolves around the misadventures of Alice's
unconventional family as they encounter life's ups, downs and occasional
absurdities. Created for television by Susin Nielsen, the show is
co-executive produced by Nielsen and Gary Harvey, who also acts as lead
director, reuniting the creative team behind this year's
critically-acclaimed CTV/Omni series Robson Arms.
Alice, I Think is the second of three new original scripted series
slated for production for CTV's 2005/06 schedule. Together with dramatic
comedy series Jeff Ltd. and the one-hour drama Whistler, Alice I Think
joins CTV's award-winning stable of original scripted programming
including Corner Gas (Canada's No. 1 Comedy), Degrassi: The Next
Generation (Canada's No. 1 Drama for Teens and Adults) and Instant Star,
now receiving rave reviews in the United States on The N.
As Alice, McKillip plays a maladjusted teenager with a bizarre fashion
sense that is painfully out of touch. Alice starts high school after
years of home-schooling on the hunt for a look, a social life, a job and
a boyfriend. Her mother Diane (Rebecca Northan, The Joe Blow Show) is
the new-aged family breadwinner while her father John (Dan Payne,
Stargate: Atlantis) is an endearing house-husband. Little brother
MacGregor (Connor Price, Cinderella
Man) is the brains of the outfit.
Other residents of Smithers (pop. 5,124) include Finn (Haig Sutherland),
John's gay best friend and band mate who runs a used sporting goods
store; Geraldine (Lori Triolo), Diane's counter-culture best friend and
fully-fledged "natural woman"; Linda (Taylor Hill), the 16-year-old town
psychopath who has made Alice's life a living hell since first grade;
and Marcus (Michael Eklund), John's other band mate who drives the only
taxi in town and dates women half his age.
"We are thrilled to be in production with Slanted Wheel Entertainment
and CTV on this exciting new series" says Producer Brian Hamilton,
Vice-President of Vancouver-based Omni Film Productions. "The characters
are fresh and unexpected. They're real and likeable with storylines that
will appeal to people of all ages, bringing the wonderful characters
from Susan Juby's books to a whole new audience."
"Alice, I Think doesn't pull any punches," said Executive Producer Jon
Slan, President of Toronto-based Slanted Wheel Entertainment. "It's
funny, but it's also honest. Viewers will relate to the oddities and
irreverence of these larger-than-life small-town characters."
Alice, I Think is based on the series of novels by Nanaimo writer Susan
Juby. Originally published in 2000, Alice, I Think was one of the rare
books loved by both teenagers and adults. Books in Canada raved that
Alice, I Think was a "dead-on, laugh-out-loud female coming of age
story" while Canadian Literature described it as "a great, funny, romp
of a book...completely unlike any other novel in this genre." The book
was critically acclaimed and was nominated for the Amazon.com/Books in
Canada First Novel Award. Juby's follow-up novel, Miss Smithers,
published in April 2004, won a BC Book Prize and was nominated for the
2005 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Earlier this year, the final book
in the series, Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last hit store shelves. All
three books are published by HarperCollins in Canada, the United States,
the United Kingdom and Australia.
Carly McKillip decided she wanted to be an actor at the age of four. Her
work as a professional began with a recurring role in the television
series The Marshal, which led to guest spots on several series including
The X-Files, Poltergeist: The Legacy, The Net and Life As We Know It.
McKillip's film roles include Floating Away, Saving Silverman, Dr.
Doolittle, John Tucker Must Die, and Stranger in Town, for which she was
nominated by the 1998 Youth In Film Awards for Best Performance in a
Television Movie/Pilot Series/Best Young Actress (Age 10 or Under).
McKillip has also voiced animated characters in Sabrina The Movie, What
About Mimi? and Card Captors.
Alice, I Think is produced by Brian Hamilton (Robson Arms) and executive
produced by Jon Slan (Plague City: SARS in Toronto) and Gabriela
Schonbach (StuntDawgs). Rachel Rafelman (Plague City: SARS in Toronto)
co-produces. Louise Clark is CTV's Director, Western Independent
Production. Brent Haynes is Director of Programming for The Comedy
Network. Bill Mustos is Senior Vice-President, Dramatic Programming for
CTV. Ed Robinson is Senior-Vice President, Comedy and Variety
Programming, CTV Inc. Susanne Boyce is President, CTV Programming and
Chair of the CTV Media Group.
Alice, I Think is a co-production between Slanted Wheel Entertainment
Inc. and Omni Film Productions Limited. Alice, I Think was developed and
produced in association with CTV and The Comedy Network, with the
participation of the Canadian Television Fund, created by the Government
of Canada and the Canadian cable industry, Telefilm Canada: Equity
Investment Program, CTF: License Fee Program, the Province of British
Columbia Film Incentive BC, Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit
and the Shaw Rocket Fund.
The Woefield Poultry Collective (HarperCollins $21.99)
from Lindsay Williams
It’s still possible that you haven’t heard of Susan Juby, the fast-moving, literary chameleon. Since her emergence in 2002, the Nanaimo-based Juby has mastered a time-traveling style of writing in which she channels her younger self.
First, her three Young Adult novels about a girl growing up in Smithers became the basis of a TV show, Alice, I Think. That trilogy was followed by two widely acclaimed Young Adult novels, Getting the Girl and Another Kind of Cowboy.
Then she switched genres for a memoir about overcoming teenage alcoholism, Nice Recovery, recently included in the Top 100 of 2010 by the Globe & Mail. As a succinct recollection of times gone very, very blurry, Nice Recovery was praiseworthy, but I grunted through the last fifty pages.
Nice Recovery, as a whole, was PG-13. I wanted more dirt and less calm revelation. I felt slighted until I realized that the most important thing about the memoir was to cross the genre boundary and make the recollections of a very adult matter available and readable to young people who need the benefit of someone else’s hindsight.
Now Juby is nicely cracking the adult fiction market with The Woefield Poultry Collective, published in the U.S. as Home to Woefield. A rather inauspicious-looking cover told me that I would laugh out loud, which is generally an indication that I likely won’t. In this case, I was wrong. I did laugh out loud.
Woefield is a multi-perspective novel about a young urbanite name Prudence who inherits her uncle’s decrepit Vancouver Island farm.
Peripheral characters are sparkling with life and serve as a reminder of Juby’s wonderful and elastic imagination. We meet Sara, a precocious young girl with a group of clucking show chickens, and Seth, an alcoholic and selectively agoraphobic celebrity blogger. Earl, the grizzled farm foreman teeters on the edge of cliché with his heart of gold.
The age ranges that are used for these characters season this funny and contemporary tale. I, for one, am pleased to see Susan Juby’s departure (at least temporarily) from Young Adult fiction. Juby’s writing is too strong to be hindered by content and language restrictions imposed by the Young Adult genre. In Woefield, Susan Juby’s mature talents have come home to roost.
W.P. Kinsella once wrote, “I had just about given up on humour in Canadian literature, when, as I was wending my way through the sometimes good, sometimes bad, but generally humourless nominees for the Books in Canada First Novel Award, all of a sudden I started laughing out loud, and calling to my wife, saying ‘Listen to this! Listen to this!’ The book that excited me was Alice, I Think by Susan Juby.”
In whichever genre she chooses, Susan Juby is still laugh-out-loud funny. 978-1554687442
Lindsay Williams is a bookseller on Galiano Island.